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Turkey prepares legal challenge to Gaza blockade

Will seek ruling from world court on Israeli tactic

An Israeli Navy ship cruised to Ashdod after intercepting a French boat accused of violating its blockade of Gaza in July. An Israeli Navy ship cruised to Ashdod after intercepting a French boat accused of violating its blockade of Gaza in July. (Jack Guez/AFP/File)
By Suzan Fraser
Associated Press / September 4, 2011

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ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey is preparing to challenge Israel’s blockade on Gaza at the International Court of Justice, the foreign minister said yesterday, ratcheting up tensions between the once-close allies.

Ahmet Davutoglu’s comments came a day after Turkey expelled the Israel’s ambassador and severed military ties with the country, angered over its refusal to apologize for last year’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.

In an interview with Turkey’s state-run TRT television, Davutoglu dismissed a United Nations report into the raid that said Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was a legal security measure. Davutoglu said the report was not endorsed by the UN and was therefore not binding.

“What is binding is the International Court of Justice,’’ Davutoglu said. “This is what we are saying: let the International Court of Justice decide.’’

“We are starting the necessary legal procedures this coming week,’’ he said.

But Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said his country has nothing to apologize for and that it has done all it could to avoid a crisis with Turkey. He said the Turks apparently intended to raise tensions with Israel for its own reasons.

“The problem here is on the Turkish side. . . . They were not ready for a compromise and kept raising the threshold,’’ Ayalon said on Israeli TV yesterday. “I think we need to say to the Turks: as far as we are concerned, this saga is behind us. Now we need to cooperate. Lack of cooperation harms not only us, but Turkey as well.’’

The UN report, released Friday, was prepared by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and presented to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Davutoglu said the report contradicted an earlier one on the flotilla incident, which found that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided the flotilla. That report was prepared in September by three investigators appointed by the UN’s top human rights body.

He also warned Israel that it risks alienation among Arab nations by resisting an apology.

“If Israel persists with its current position, the Arab spring will give rise to a strong Israel opposition as well as the debate on the authoritarian regimes,’’ Davutoglu said.

On Friday, Turkey downgraded its diplomatic ties with Israel to the level of second secretary and gave the ambassador and other high-level diplomats until Wednesday to leave the country.

In other measures against Israel, Turkey suspended military agreements, promised to back legal actions against Israel by the families of the raid’s victims, and vowed to take steps to ensure freedom to navigate in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish officials refused to elaborate on their government’s latest move, but some analysts suggested that Turkey could send navy vessels to escort aid ships to Gaza in the future.

Turkey’s main opposition party warned Friday that such a step could lead to confrontation between Turkish and Israeli forces. “The probability that [Turkey’s ruling] party has carried Turkey to the brink of a hot conflict is saddening and unacceptable,’’ said Faruk Logoglu, a deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People’s Party.

Yesterday, the UN’s Ban urged Turkey and Israel to mend ties for the good of the Middle East peace process. “I sincerely hope that Israel and Turkey will improve their relationship,’’ Ban said during a visit to Australia.

The new UN report called the May 31, 2010 Israeli raid “excessive and unreasonable.’’ It also blamed Turkey and flotilla organizers for contributing to the deaths.

Israel insists its forces acted in self-defense and says there will be no apology. The report called on Israel to issue “an appropriate statement of regret.’’

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